Comet PanSTARRS

For the month of March and into April, we in the Northern Hemisphere will be graced by what could be the brightest comet since the 1990’s. Discovered on June 6, 2011 by the 1.8 metre Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System or PanSTARRS, this (then) 19th magnitude smudge is on a close encounter with the Sun. Officially catalogued as C/2011 L4, our interstellar visitor will be at its predicted brightest at third magnitude or brighter around March 6 or 7. Here in Canada, that is when we can start to catch the comet just after sunset along the horizon. Each night the comet treks north by about a degree or so and keeps moving higher in the sky towards the constellation of Cassiopeia the Queen. However, it will be dimming rapidly as it pulls away from the solar furnace by one full magnitude every five nights, so plan observing and photography accordingly.